The White Guitar offers a legacy of hope

The White Guitar had its premiere in Christchurch as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival. The Luafutu family received ...
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The White Guitar had its premiere in Christchurch as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival. The Luafutu family received a standing ovation.

The White Guitar at the Court Theatre, Christchurch on Thursday September 10. Written and performed by Malo Luafutu (Scribe), Matthias Luafutu and Fa'amoana "John" Luafutu. Directed by Nina Nawalowalo and Jim Moriarty. Season runs until September 13 as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival. Reviewed by Vicki Anderson.

The sons shall return home.

The White Guitar is the emotional and troubled story of the Luafutu family - powerful patriarch Fa'amoana, Matthias and Malo, aka award-winning rapper Scribe. They are real people telling their real story. It is presented with elegant simplicity and style by The Conch.

Every family has darkness which is swept under the rug. For the Luafutu family it's time to vacuum. Through telling their story they seek hope and healing for themselves and their people.

Bound together by music, the White Guitar is the story of a Samoan family's journey to New Zealand and eventual settlement in Auckland and Christchurch. It speaks of their dreams, their feelings of displacement and their experiences with racism, violence, prison and gangs.

Accomplished actor Matthias, a graduate of Toi Whakaari, the New Zealand drama school, is surely our next Cliff Curtis. Strong and compelling, he was clearly born for the stage.

Scribe, making his acting debut, is a revelation. His comic timing was perfect, often taking the edge off a dramatic moment in a way that was clever but without losing the power or sentiments of their collective story.

But it is his portrayal of his life growing up in Christchurch, battling with drugs, including a recollection of a near overdose, which moves me to tears.

For a rapper known for his swagger and bravado to allow us to see his weakness and fragility was overwhelmingly powerful. Scribe crawled around the stage on his belly reliving his darkest moments with the audience. His performance was courageous and deeply moving.

The violence dished out in the name of love was also affecting. I had to look away, my eyes averted from the broken men on stage, such was the realism  of their portrayal.

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All the while Fa'amoana, who had both received and given the beatings, stood on the side of the stage, expertly and gently strumming his White Guitar.

Occasionally he paused to wipe a tear away. He wasn't alone.

I knew the earthquake sequence was coming and mentally braced for it but nothing prepared me for the emotions which rose like liquefaction to the surface. I felt the audience around me - a full house but a diverse mix of ages, creeds and socioeconomic backgrounds - collectively hold their breaths, returning to February 22, 2011. The rumble was artificially derived but none the less terrifying.

As the Christchurch audience rose to offer the Luafutu men a standing ovation I know I have just witnessed a seminal moment in New Zealand theatre history.

As the lights come on I turn to my companion but neither of us can speak. The power of the White Guitar's tune has rendered us temporarily speechless. Stumbling out into the unforgiving cold I look at Christchurch's concrete coloured skies through fresh eyes.

This is a powerful New Zealand story which must be told often to many. It offers a legacy of hope for future generations.

After all, one boy called broke is one too many.

This is real life so there is no happy ending tied up neatly courtesy of a scriptwriter's pen, but this is one family who stand side by side in solidarity as they pick up the pieces of their broken lives.

Because of their fierce unity and shared hope for a light-filled future, the Luafutus are now a family who really are living the dream.

 - The Press

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